The Artist Who Envisions Trump Soliciting Prostitutes and Hanging With the KKK

"I am intentionally blurring the boundaries between what is real and what is not." —Alison Jackson

Facts, too, died in 2016. Perception now solely wears the crown. In turn, the stakes involved in the work of Alison Jackson, a British artist with a career long in critiquing the cult of celebrity and images being used to manipulate and herd the public, have never been higher.

Jackson is best known for using lookalikes to create realistic-seeming photographic portrayals of everyone’s celebrity obsession. From Kimye to the Royal Family (and the Queen Mum’s corgies), she crafts images that are any PR firms living nightmare. The work lives in the breath between reality and imagination. They portray celebrities once out of the public’s watchful eye and in the more than compromising moments of “real” life.

So, how could the human tornado of bullshit and self-tanner that is our president-elect not come under Jackson’s scrutiny? She has recently published Private 2016, a collection of images of Donald Trump (and other celebrities and politicians) that mince no words. As inflammatory and vulgar as the “real life” narrative of the Trump brand, the images use shock to offer example – albeit extreme – of the deceptive nature of images and the manufacturing of perception.

Despite being advised by her lawyers not to publish Private 2016 out of fear of legal reprisal from the litigious and thin-skinned Trump, Jackson pressed on. And when publishers, too, shied away from the heat the images could generate, she self-published the collection.

Mass Appeal reached out to the artist to learn more.

As someone who constructs images that wear the appearance of being truth-like, you must have spotted the selling of a presidential Trump brand early on?

Alison Jackson: I put a bet on Trump being president six months prior to the election. He is a excellent marketeer, and his campaign was the Donald Trump reality show. He is an entertainer. His rehearsal for his media skills was The Apprentice. He ran a professional, media man/host style campaign in the run to president. He has used the media outlets to propel him into every household living room. All politicians lie. [Former British Prime Minister Tony] Blair took it to new limits – so did Bush – but, Trump appears to have Trumped that by appearing to be telling it how it is – the honest sounding approach. It caught the attention of the public and got him in. But in fact, he is full of contradictions, exaggerations and statements that sound very much like lies with glitter… and like birds that are attracted to glitter, so are we. Trump plays and panders to the public imagination. He exaggerates the truth just enough for the masses to buy it both with their fears and anxieties. The public imagination has never been so large before with the bombardment of imagery through many outlets, and never has it been so openly indulged before – except by Trump. He has an extremely persuasive rhetoric.

By the very act of blurring the line between fact and fiction, how does your work offer cultural clarity?

I am intentionally blurring the boundaries between what is real and what is not –  blurring the boundaries between fact and what exists in our imaginations. One foot in truth and one in fantasy. I am raising questions about what can we believe in a world of digital and media platforms where everything is pre set up, performed, staged, lit and edited seductively to appeal to our curiosity. Objective truth doesn’t exist. Only its interpretation is relevant, and interpretation is up to the observer who creates an image in one’s minds. My work frees the imagination, removing those obstacles artificially erected by the very people whose images I create.

When did the publishing of Private move from parody to protest? Have the stakes ever felt as high for you professionally and creatively?

First, my work is not parody, I am holding up a mirror to images that exist in the public mind. I was forced into publishing my own images because I was isolated by the media and publishing houses who were too scared of repercussions. I wanted to broadcast my views, particularly my interpretation of Donald Trump as I saw him through the media eyes. Nobody had the courage to side with me. I am now in grave danger but, as I get pushed further and further into darkness, my inspiration becomes stronger and brighter.

Right now, it feels like we couldn’t possibly out-parody reality if we tried. Did Trump being elected help or, in certain aspects, hurt your work? Have you or will you adapt your approach or process in anyway in response to the change in terrain?

If I were to adapt my work according to the different situations I would perhaps become a diplomat or politician… Instead, I want people to see beyond a standardized reality projected in front of them by the media, the public figures and their publicists and strategists. And in an odd way Trump’s presence has helped creatively because the stakes are massive. And, so are the dangers. The media need a political figure such as Trump – bad news is good news for the media. I hope to make a ‘real’ documentary about Trump to reveal the ‘true’ Donald Trump using behind the scenes moments using my actor as Trump.

What do you think the role of the artist needs to be then in a post-facts, Trump-era? 

Now that Trump has won, nobody will want to be the legal target of the President of the United States of America! Imagine being sued by the POTUS?? But, the artist has a major responsibility. The artist must be the conscience of the people and must remind both Trump and the people themselves that somebody is watching every step of this new adventure.

Private 2016 is available for purchase here.

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